In dealing with the coronavirus, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker implemented many restrictive measures on golf courses in the Prairie State. After being completely closed for play for nearly two months, Pritzker eventually allowed for limited reopening of golf courses. The problem was restrictions were so harsh it simply did not make sense for many courses to open. Those restrictions included twosomes only spaced in 15-minute tee times, no golf cars, no practice facilities, and carry out food could not be consumed on the course. Add that together and the result was eight rounds an hour with very little other revenue – a losing proposition.
The allied golf groups in Illinois appreciated the opportunity for courses to open, but decided these restrictions needed to be addressed, so they came up with reasonable modifications that largely mirrored protocols implemented in all the states surrounding Illinois such as foursomes only spaced in 10-12 minute tee times, single rider golf cars, and allowing for food pick-up and consumption on the golf course during a round.
As reasonable as those requests seemed, they were not being recognized by the Governor and his staff. Meetings were held, but nothing was changing. As Illinois approached their next phase of economic re-opening, the golf industry was getting concerned they would be left behind. After all, courses had been allowed to open, so state regulators may feel “they were taken care of” the thinking went. In search of a new approach to have their voice heard, Luke Cella, Chapter Executive for the Midwest Association of Golf Course Superintendents, proposed setting up an action alert for members of the allied associations to contact their state legislators urging them to work with the Governor and Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to amend their restrictions on golf.
An alert was created including a respectful message with a clear “ask” including the aforementioned modifications. What happened next was truly amazing. The golf industry in Illinois collectively showed up in a big way. In less than 24 hours, 176 of 177 state legislators were contact by more than 7,000 individuals resulting in over 15,000 messages sent. These messages hit legislator in-boxes the day they were set to arrive in Springfield to wrap up their session for the year. A few state senators received over 500 messages alone.
Was the golf industry’s voice heard? It certainly was. At his 2:30 press conference the next day, Governor Pritzker announced his administration would be allowing foursomes in single rider carts with a few more updates to come. Quite the turnaround from just a few days prior.
Here’s the takeaway – when the golf industry comes together with a unified voice in advocacy, we have the strength to bring about the change we need. This campaign checked all the boxes. It was the right message at the right time combining direct lobbying with a grassroots campaign that generated a huge response from the Illinois golf industry.
If you are interested in developing similar grassroots campaigns in your state, GCSAA Government Affairs staff is here to help. Contact Michael Lee at email@example.com for assistance.